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Another Controversial Choice for the Nobel Peace Prize

USAF/Zachary Hada

Brantly Millegan - published on 10/14/13 - updated on 06/07/17

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. Their work is still in progress, so were they really the best choice? Our Aleteia Experts weigh in.

Last friday, the Nobel Peace Prize committee announced the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as the winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, edging out media favorite Malala Yousafzai.

The OPCW is an intergovernmental organization based out of the Netherlands that works for the elimination of all chemical weapons worldwide. Most recently, it was charged with overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemcial weapons stockpile. The official announcement of the prize said the OPCW was chosen "for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons."

We asked our Aleteia Experts what they thought of the choice.

"This is a better choice than the Committee has made in years," says Catholic author John Zmirak. "By their very nature, chemical weapons tend to be indiscriminate–and do special harm to civilians who are less likely to have protective clothing than soldiers."

The Second Vatican Council taught in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes): "Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation." (80)

Zmirak also points out the extra meaning chemical weapons have in light of the Holocaust. "There is also something distinctly offensive to decent people about the use of human pesticides, especially in the shadow of the Nazi extermination camps."

"Furthermore, I am glad for the Christians and other religious minorities of Syria that the chemical weapons issue could be removed as a pretext for U.S. intervention on behalf of intolerant Islamist rebels."

Professor Emeritus of History at the University of St. Thomas Joseph Fitzharris disagrees with Zmirak's positive assessment, pointing to the fact that the OPCW's work is still in progress. "More of the same – NGOs, International Agencies, Politicians who, at the time of the award, had done nothing to promote peace." He thinks better choices were available: "Caritas, Doctors without borders, a lot of organizations would be more appropriate."

Fitzharris says the prize has long lacked legitimacy due to its poor choices of recipients, dating back to its first few years. "In a less 'correct' world, it might mean something, but the Nobel Peace Prize is such debased coinage that little of the actual metal remains. We could argue that giving Theodore Roosevelt the Nobel Peace Prize began the trend, but at least the shooting stopped and he had done something."

Zmirak thinks the prize plays an important role in maintaining belief in pan-cultural moral norms. "At its best, the Peace Prize signals a moral consensus that some person or group has lived up to ideals that transcend all cultural differences. It's important that we hold up the notion of a transcendent moral order, grounded in the natural law, which is accessible to unaided human reason and engraved by God on the human heart."

The following Aleteia Experts contributed to this article:

Joseph Fitzharris is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of St. Thomas.

John Zmirak is the author, most recently, of The Bad Catholics Guide to the Catechism. His columns are archived at The Bad Catholics Bingo Hall.

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